Are you an angry person? Are you a violent person? Habitus, the new evening-length work by multimedia dance company Vector, demands you answer those questions—literally, on your ticket, where you circle "Y" or "N."
The piece's public life began in January as an embryonic installation at Manbites Dog Theater. At the Friday, March 6 performance of the finished work, we found that it had evolved into dynamic dance-theater that nips, scratches, insults, and makes amends, then repeats as necessary.
The creation of dancer/choreographer Leah Wilks and video artist Jon Haas, Habitus continues a lively debut season from Durham Independent Dance Artists. In a fighting ring-like set, with some brutally choreographed body-slams to match, shard-like vignettes constitute the movement and structure. "Whether you have an explicit relationship to anger, violence and power or not, these are the themes that affect us all," the program notes say. Habitus is expansive in its consideration of anger's passive and active guises; how it inhabits us and how we inhabit it.
Early on, as dancers assume the heavy-limbed stances of prizefighters, Dana Marks, playing both announcer and commander, snakes among them, gesturing maniacally. Then, at the order of dancer Jessi Knight, the scene abruptly breaks, as scenes in Habitus often do. The video screen above her displays a system error.
As the other performers melt into the periphery, Knight begins a jagged solo, adopting a sensual pose one moment and mimicking a childlike hand-clap game the next. Later, in a warped mirror-image, Thea Jaworski drags her leg around herself over and over as a recorded voice details dreams of violent desires. These solos radiate insecurity, flickering between exposure and restraint.
The seven performers, called by their real names, lay themselves bare in the ring, embodying inner demons that must be at least partly autobiographical. Their movements demonstrate how anger and violence can slide, quickly and unpredictably, into identification and care.
We are asked to respond in return. The ticket and a program-insert comment card provide context for what we see on stage, but don't quite congeal a narrative throughline. Instead, they give us a certain impetus to consider things about ourselves that can be obscured by daily habits of body and mind.
At one point, with the performers scattered in crooked repose, we see video images of police forces in Ferguson, Missouri, and suddenly feel a violence in our own spectatorship. As the performers break and mend themselves, is our gaze driving their self-creation? Are you a violent person? Yes? No? I took the slips of paper home and thought about what to circle.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A mystery of violence."